Wandering into Istanbul’s Sultanahmet is like stepping back in time to the days of the glorious city of Constantinople, the powerful cultural hotspot of the Roman, Byzantine and much of the Ottoman period after it fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. This tranquil part of the city is where many of the historical sites of Istanbul are found, including the Topkapi Palace Museum, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Museum of Islamic Art and the Basilica Cistern.
This area of the Old City is one of the most picturesque and romantic to walk around, and you won’t go far before you have stumbled across yet another gorgeous mosque, palace or other historical wonder. Make sure your camera is fully charged, as you will want to capture the stunning opulence of this grand city. Most of the historical landmarks of the Old City are located within a short walking distance from Sultanahmet Square, making this an ideal area to explore on foot and one of the best locations to find a hotel in Istanbul. If you plan on visiting several museums during a short visit, you might even consider the Museum Pass Istanbul, which will grant you entry to many of the museums and monuments and let you skip the queues.
What to See in Nearby Sultanahmet Square
Here are a few of the highlights of the Old City of Istanbul that are within walking distance from your hotel near Sultanahmet Square.
The Hagia Sophia
This is one of the most well-known historical sites in the Old City and is considered a great masterwork of Roman engineering. The basilica was constructed for the Roman Emperor Justinian and dates back to the sixth century. In 1935, it was converted into a museum and contains a collection of gorgeous artwork and stunning mosaics. The entrance fee is 25 TL, and you can also hire a guide at the museum to experience it more in depth.
This lavish and ornate palace was the exclusive domain of the Ottoman emperors for over 400 years. As you explore the palace, you will be treated to the sight of Islamic and Christian religious relics, ancient weapons and antique rugs. Be sure to check out the stunning view over the Bosphorus, or Istabul Strait, when you reach the Fourth Court. The entrance fee is 25 TL.
The Sultanahmet Mosque
Otherwise known as the Blue Mosque, this gorgeous building dominates views of the Old City of Istanbul with its elegant domes and six minarets. When you step inside, you will be amazed at the sight of more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles, a blue-painted ceiling and 200 stained-glass windows letting in the natural light. It is still a functioning mosque, so make sure you wear the appropriate clothing when you visit. You should keep your shoulders and legs covered, and shawls will be provided for women. You will also need to remove your footwear, which you can carry in a provided bag. Remember that flash photography is not allowed and that it is a place of worship, so be quiet and respectful. The entrance to the Blue Mosque is free, but donations are welcome.
The Museum of Archeology
If you are interested in ancient history, this museum will fascinate you to no end. It contains an impressive collection that includes Sumerian tablets, fragments of the wall of Babylon and plenty of impressive Roman marble statues. The museum even contains what was once thought to be the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great, a gorgeous piece adorned with ornate carvings. The entrance fee is 10 TL and, although the museum is open until 5 p.m., the last tickets are sold at 4 p.m. The Old City area of Istanbul is one of the oldest continuously inhabited spots in the world and is overflowing with beautiful remnants of bygone eras. If you are a history lover, bring your walking shoes and wander into Istanbul’s past.
Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons
About the Author: Sam Robertson is a contributing writer and history professor from Perth. He loves historical architecture, and his favourite building in Istanbul is the Blue Mosque.